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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Brain Cramp: Last Thoughts (probably) On The Strange Audio World Of Peter W. Belt (BK)

My pieces on the audio tweaks and theories developed by Peter Belt’s Leeds based company PWB Electronics ( ‘Hunting the Snark’ here and ‘Read this facing North’ here) appeared in MusicWeb about a year ago, and apart from trying a couple of further experiments once these articles were published, I decided to leave the subject dormant to settle in my mind. Other curiosities emerged in the last few months however, alerting my attention to further PWB developments.

A fair summary of my thinking up to the end of last year, was that I was convinced that some of Mr. Belt’s products – ‘Silver rainbow foils’ ‘Spiratube’ and ‘Cream Electret’ – had improved my perception of the sound from my audio system sufficiently well to be ‘real’ repeatable effects: and I was reasonably sure that freezing CDs and slowly thawing them out again also had some merit. Against this though, the genuinely ‘whacky’ Belt experiments - leaving photographs of myself in the freezer compartment of my fridge and sticking an aspirin tablet to the cabinets of my speakers – were understandably more worrying to someone of an introspective nature like myself. I pondered hard about whether the ‘improvements’ I had ‘heard’ from these extraordinary practices, were down to good old self-deception. They had to be, I reckoned, since the Belts’ explanations for them made my head hurt whenever I started to think hard about them

So far so bad, but worse was to come. Just before Christmas last year, on our way to Denmark via Birmingham, my wife and I called in to see Len Mullenger and David Dyer, the owner of the MusicWeb reference audio system (here.) They had tried freezing duplicate CDs, had played them ‘blind’ in the reference system and had heard no difference whatever between the frozen and unfrozen discs. More doubts loomed, except for two factors that I really hadn’t expected: David and Len play discs a lot louder than we do - we asked them to turn the volume down quite a bit - and secondly, both Lyn and I had the sneaking suspicion that our home audio system costing a fraction of the price of the reference despite using a similar power amplifier, sounded (how can I put this tactfully?) well, rather more like a live performance regardless of the signal source.

Now, allowing fully for the subjectivity of the comparison and also being mindful that people listen for different things from audio, the niggles about ‘Belting’ wouldn’t quite go away after this. I should of course, have taken some of my own ‘Belted’ discs to the reference listening session and more obviously still , should have taken some reversible Belt ‘treatments’ with me for Len and David to try out. I didn’t; I ‘forgot’ to put them in our holiday packing and yes, Professor Freud, you could be right – perhaps I simply wasn’t ready then, to disprove my illusions.

The truth can make you free apparently, but first it makes you miserable. On returning home after Christmas, my niggles were still with me and I did something radical to test Peter Belt’s ideas even further. I froze and slowly thawed a whole DVD player – not my expensive one of course, but the £25 white-goods store machine that I had previously ‘treated’ with Belt Spiratube and Cream Electret. Lo and behold, as they say, the machine sounded even better after this, and the performance / price ratio between it and my Primare disc player biased further in the cheap machine’s favour. But then something happened that gave me brain cramp with a vengeance: I found a PWB product that made my system worse.

I received more product samples from Peter Belt’s wife May after the first two articles and had deliberately put them to one side, preferring instead to explore how the first batch of treatments felt over time. By January 2006, I was still very happy with the system and encouraged by the success of freezing the DVD player (and then some power cables subsequently) I explored the new ‘foils’ carefully, testing each one incrementally, almost invariably in the presence of other witnesses who were unaware of what was happening. The results were mixed, varying from further spectacular improvement right through to an instance of distinct and obvious deterioration in audio quality, which neither Mrs. Belt nor I could explain, and which may be the first example ever recorded of such an eventuality. If that really is the case, then it is of considerable interest in terms of theorising about how PWB products might work.

Foiled Again

As well as the sticky ‘Silver Rainbow Foil’ that is applied to discs, PWB Electronics produce a large number of other foils for direct application to audio equipment and their environments. One of these, ‘Inside Foil’ can be applied to the inside surfaces of almost any component with claimed success. I tried this first (the usual small narrow strip) by placing it in the rear-firing tuning port in only one of my main speakers. When my wife came into the room, she spotted immediately that the ‘foiled’ speaker sounded different to the untreated one and also said that the sound from it was somehow airier and less constricted than the other. Placing an identical piece of foil in the untreated speaker’s port produced a result little short of miraculous: both speakers ‘disappeared’ sonically, leaving only a three dimensional stereo image apparently emanating from ‘nowhere’ and genuinely ‘out of the boxes.’

Since we had previously thought this effect unobtainable in our acoustically difficult, low-ceilinged cottage living- room, this was a spectacular and completely unexpected success and a serious incentive to further experiments with ‘Inside Foil.’ All of these were rewarding: applying the same foil strips to the cases of amplifiers, tuners (including the Sky Digibox) and disc players brought further definition to the sound so that more of the signal was audible even at reduced volumes and the television picture was better too. The effects were more incremental however, and not so obviously startling as the initial change noticed after treating the speakers.

After double-checking that removing the ‘Inside Foils’ from treated equipment reversed the perceived improvements (it did) the next step was to apply samples of ‘Morphic Message Foils’ to the system and it was here that we stumbled on the quite unexpected effect of sound deteriorating dramatically in one particular circumstance. ‘Morphic Message Foils’ depend on the Belts’ assertion that evolutionary processes have affected mammalian hearing adversely (see ‘Hunting the Snark’ again here) and as a consequence the foils have curious names like ‘Safe Hole’ ‘Comfort’ and ‘New Type Communication.’ They are supposed to overcome the inherent auditory deficits occurring when sight replaced hearing as the dominant sense during evolutionary progression. I confess freely to having serious intellectual reservations about this idea and the linked notion of Professor Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘morphic resonance’ cited as the theoretical underpinning for these foils in PWB literature. Nonetheless, experimentation continued despite my reservations: unbiased appraisal was still the game’s name.

What I expected to happen was simply Nothing. My idea up to this point had been that at least partial willingness (open-mindedness or a kind of faith maybe) was necessary in order to experience an effect from these products, and I was reasonably confident that I would notice no effects whatever from the application of Morphic Message foils to my equipment because I was sceptical about the theory that underpinned them. I was wholly and completely WRONG: there were effects, slight and positive for the most part, but definitely and reversibly negative in one particular instance. While the foils did help when applied to the frozen player and to my amplifiers and tuners, the sound from my Primare player worsened markedly after foiling it. Without the foils the Primare was accurate, lively and natural: with foils it was imprecise and lifeless. Foils on - rubbish, foils off - music. I made four or five repetitions, just to be sure.

Reasons To Be Cheerful: Part One

The important thing about this observation was that the PWB effect seemed to happen independently of my personal expectations or of a theoretically credible mind-set. I had no idea what ‘Inside Foil’ was meant to do before I used it, had no expectations about the results it might produce and it still worked spectacularly well. On the other hand, I was very confident that my scepticism about ‘Morphic Message Foils’ theory would guarantee that no effects at all would result from using these products, and that turned out to be completely false. Something was happening in all cases, even if one result was paradoxical.

One important variable was relevant to these observations. The Primare, the Digibox and my speakers are at one end of my living room – the player is near the television set while the rest of the equipment (including the cheap DVD player which I use for audio only) is at the other end. This seemed worthy of further investigation, and as it turned out, the observed ‘failure’ became something of a comfort. It meant that maybe I wasn’t as gullible as I had begun to suspect and the brain cramp I was suffering eased off. Yes, I concluded, some aspects of Beltian theory might well be very dubious, but the effects of the products could still be real. People used to think that phlogiston existed before we discovered oxygen, but flames had always burned and metals rusted.

As it happens, there’s an idea in social psychology called Cognitive Dissonance which goes some way to explaining both my brain cramp and why some people are so vehemently dismissive of Peter Belt’s products. Cognitive Dissonance (CD) theory says that perception of conflicts between elements of knowledge (or between attitudes, emotions, beliefs or behaviours) can produce uncomfortable personal tensions in people faced up by the dissonance. This tension is often reduced by the acquistion (or invention) of new thoughts or beliefs that explain away the conflicts, even when these new ideas are completely false.

In my own case, the thing that I’m calling brain cramp came about because I couldn’t bring myself to believe the theories the Belts use to explain how their products work which made me uncomfortable and self-doubting: and when ‘non- believers’ get so vehement about PWB products (as some audio journalists have been for example) they invariable conclude that the Belts just have to be lying charlatans, snake-oil merchants fooling gullible people with flim-flam. Interestingly, the most vehement critics rarely seem to try Belt products themselves – they just know that they’re rubbish and a confidence trick. And even if they do try some products, the same critics almost always conclude that they’re imagining any perceived differences. QED then? Well, CD more likely.

Reasons To Be Cheerful: Part Two

After noticing the paradoxical effect of ‘Morphic Message foils’ on the Primare player, the obvious thing to do was to reposition it to the other end of the room, switching the cheap DVD player over at the same time. The problems about doing this though, were that the two machines always sound different to one another, as might be expected given the eighty-fold price difference between them, and there is a huge difference in the length of cable runs required for each location. On balance however, I thought that the Primare sounded slightly better with foils on when placed near the amplifiers where the cheap DVD player had been previously and that the opposite was true of the cheap machine. There might, I thought, be something peculiar about the Primare’s original location or the cable runs, or there might not. The only arguments one way or another were that the cheap DVD player seemed similarly affected when moved ( ie it became worse with foils on) and that the Sky Digibox - also situated near the television - was hardly affected at all by the Message foils, despite having picked up considerably (like the Primare) with the the previous application of ‘Inside Foil.’ Odd though.

Further thought about my experiences so far, caused me to consider the possibility that some of the inconclusive ‘double-blind’ testing of PWB products reported on the Belts’ web site and in some audio literature, compares chalk and cheese rather more than it thinks it does. My cottage happens to be over 400 years old and is built from a combination of stone and cob, a mixture of earth, straw, sand and water which might  be contibuting somehow to the problem with the Primare though I wasn't sure how. But given that some early theories about Belt products had to do with removing ‘electro-magnetic pollution’ in equipment and the environment , and also that later ideas were concerned with ‘unblocking’ human auditory pathways, I turned to considering whether there might be other variables at work to account for the unparalleled commitment of Belt enthusiasts and the die-hard disbelief of the sceptics. Back then, to thinking about the MusicWeb reference system.

The volume at which Len Mullenger and David Dyer listened to discs was a shock to my wife and me. To our minds, orchestral sound from the reference system seemed louder than in a concert hall and despite reassurances that it wasn’t, we were much more comfortable when the volume was reduced. From our point of view, we couldn’t listen to the music for the sound – gloriously clear and undistorted as it was. Len and David can though, so discounting the fact that they both have hearing impairments (which they obviously do not) it is fairly obvious that we listen in different ways.

Here are some further possibilities about variance in listening:

  • Everyone may hear things slightly differently all the time to other people, but we have no real means of comparing our experiences.

  • Some people may listen to their equipment rather than the music playing on it.

  • We may all value slightly different aspects of music and hi-fi reproduction, eg. balance between instruments rather than overall clarity, rhythmic pace versus phrasing, indefinable beauty of tone from singers rather than accuracy of pitch, melody rather than harmonies and so on. The list is potentially endless.

  • We all may vary enormously in the levels of concentration / attention we use when we listen to music.

  • Our expectations of what we can derive from artificial music sources may differ considerably. Some people wish to replicate live performances, others may simply want background sounds. Personally, I am always baffled by Classic FM’s view that music is relaxing. Mostly, I find it enjoyable hard work.

On top of all this, there are obviously limitless differences in listening environments, furnishings, power supplies, numbers of electronic gizmos and that curious notion of domestic ‘atmosphere’ that we often appreciate but cannot describe accurately. Since my cottage is often described by visitors as having a very ‘friendly’ feel, if I believed in Feng Shui (which I simply don’t know much about) I might be inclined to investigate this further. On the other hand of course, I can just sit back and appreciate the friendliness for what it is.

All in all then, I’m inclined to think that subjective appreciation is the only truly satisfactory guide to audio performance or the evaluation of PWB products. One person’s Dansette is another’s Linn Sondek and each can be satisfied with what suits them best. All the science in the world cannot pin down experiences ‘accurately’ however much scribblers like me might think otherwise. Especially when it comes to ‘Morphic Green Cream.’

Reasons To Be Cheerful: Part Three

If anything could be designed to produce brain cramp then the Belts’ latest product was it. Members of the PWB news group had asked for a ‘kit’ for treating Mp3 players and other portable devices and when Mrs Belt kindly sent one to me to play with, the results were again startlingly impressive. The kit contained more Morphic Message Foils, four other PWB foils and a small sample of something called ‘Morphic Green Cream’ which was what caught my interest most.

In the news group’s postings there are references to this cream claiming extraordinary results from it despite its relatively high cost. It can be applied to almost anything in minuscule quantities and after playing with the kit for a while, I thought I’d test the cream out further. Applying it to only one terminal of one speaker, I was staggered to hear the sound stage take a further gigantic leap away from the source and crystallise into a genuinely 3D reality. Doing the other speaker (one terminal only) completed the transformation and had me enthralled. I was so impressed that I begged another small sample from Mrs Belt and generously she sent me not just a sample but a complete pot of this extraordinary stuff. ‘Apply it over the foils,’ she suggested, ‘It helps.’

Helps? OK, but the real question was would it, could it help the ‘adverse’ Morphic Message Foils on the Primare player in its original location? Morphic Foils on the player – worse again as usual. Morphic Green Cream on top of the added foils though - better than without the foils. Very much better, as it happens.

Never a man to be convinced by one-off trials, I repeated this process on my son’s audio system recently. It’s all fairly old, certainly not high-end by any stretch of the imagination and he plays mostly rock music on it. Without the cream it sounded loud and indistinct but he reported a marked improvement after the treatment of one speaker terminal. ‘There’s more of everything,’ he said, ‘and you can hear every instrument clearly now, even at lower volumes.’ After treating other elements in the system, including his Mp3 player, he was firmly convinced of the benefits.

Morphic Green Cream was originally meant for manufacturers I understand, and seems to be so effective that the news group respondents have been talking seriously about down-grading their equipment, substituting cheaper treated components for higher-priced gear, presumably to the chagrin of audio dealers in some cases. I have no idea how it works, but in the same way that I don’t know what makes my old house feel so comfortable to visitors, I am content to hear the cream’s benefits without a full theoretical explanation. I asked Mrs Belt once whether she thought that there was an upper limit to the benefits of PWB treatments, adding that common sense would say that there should be. ‘I don’t know,’ she said candidly, ‘but then common sense says that many of our products can’t possibly work.’ Brain cramp, now then? Me? Hah!

 

Bill Kenny
 
Contact Mrs May Belt for more information or a sample of Silver Rainbow CD Foil either by emailing foil@belt.demon.co.uk or by surface mail at PWB Electronics, 18 Pasture Crescent, Leeds, LS7 4QS, UK Please enclose your name and postal address in your communications.
The PWB Product Users Group is at http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/PWB
The PWB Web Site is at http://www.belt.demon.co.uk

 

 

 



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